Why People Leave Managers, not Companies (and what to do about it)
“People leave managers, not companies” is a common refrain you’ll hear when corporate leadership is discussed.
But is it really true? And if it is, why do people leave their managers?
Missing the forest for the trees.
When you hear why your friend took their new job, you often hear these kinds of rationalizations:
“The pay is great“: They got a raise or a better commission structure.
“The job is really exciting”: They’re excited for the new role and challenges.
“I really liked the people I’d be working with”: They were drawn to the people they interviewed with.
All of these reasons make perfect sense. Unless a past job was *really* bad, most people don’t want to be negative, and speak poorly about their past employer. They like to be optimistic that they’re going to a new job, not away from their last job.
While all that is true, you can’t get a new job unless you decide to take an interview. This means the root cause of someone leaving a company is the moment they decide to submit their resume, or finally interview at their friend’s company.
The real reasons for turnover usually point squarely back at their manager. This is due to the manager’s actions, or often, inaction, on what drives engagement and long term retention. Today, we look at this evidence for why people leave managers, not companies.
50% of Americans have left a job to “get away from their manager at some point in their career.”
So half of all Americans have had the #1 reason for leaving a job be their boss.
But given the career trends in America, most people have had multiple jobs. What about all those other jobs they’ve had along the way?
And what about the half that haven’t felt the need to ever, “get away from their manager”?
The Rider rationalizes for us.
As we wrote recently about the Elephant and the Rider, we are as much emotional creatures as we are rational. We often make an emotion-driven decision, and then rationalize it later.
When it comes to leaving a company, this means that what we rationalize as the reason, may only be a small part of the actual causes. It’s the hidden factors you don’t hear in the exit interview that combine to cause people to leave their manager.
The Hidden Impact of Managers
Your manager impacts so much of your work experience. They help determine what projects you work on, who you work with, and when/if you get promoted. They’re also the person most likely to be able to help you when you have a problem.
As Andy Grove, the former co-founder and CEO of Intel, wrote in his management classic, High Output Management, managers have significant control over their team’s performance:
While he was focused on the positive aspects, the downside is equally true: a manager can damage the morale, motivation, and productivity of their teams based on their actions, or inaction.
If you like your job, and are engaged, there’s a much lower chance you’ll go interview somewhere else.
Gallup’s own findings showed the turnover difference for engaged vs. disengaged teams was dramatic:
And unfortunately, we also know that in recent years the majority of employees have not been engaged:
This means that most managers are not doing the things that drive engagement. These are your hidden factors why people leave managers, not companies.
1) Communication, communication, communication
Without open lines of communication, managers are setting themselves up to be blindsided by a valued team member leaving.
A team member’s departure should never be a surprise. There are always warning signs, and opportunities to have fixed things along the way.
Unfortunately, those problems are easy to ignore, especially if your team is uncomfortable coming to you with them. It turns out that Gallup found that your team’s comfort in coming to you, is one of the major keys to engagement:
If a team member doesn’t feel comfortable coming to their manager, you can see that there’s almost no chance they’re engaged.
That’s not surprising, is it? If you were afraid to approach your boss, how would that make you feel about work?
Most managers are afraid.
A study of managers by Interact Studio and Harris Poll revealed that the fear goes both ways; 69% of managers are just as afraid of communication as their teams:
If both sides are afraid to have tough conversations, they’re never going to happen. Managers must have the courage and confidence to communicate with their team.
What to do about it: Everyone needs One on Ones.
How do you build strong lines of communication? By making it a priority.
The best way to prioritize communication is to regularly schedule time for it. For the uninitiated, this is what a one on one is for. It’s why Andy Grove said:
If you don’t have one on ones currently, you should start. Schedule 30-60 minutes every 1-2 weeks to meet with each person on your team individually.
Make the most of your one on ones
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